By John J. Goldman, Times Staff Writer
Los Angeles Times, LaTimes.com
Los Angeles, California, Thursday, October 23, 2003
NEW YORK - A Columbia University historian retained by the New York
Times said Wednesday that he had recommended that the Pulitzer Prize
awarded in 1932 to the newspaper's Moscow correspondent be revoked.
In an eight-page critique of Walter Duranty, who was honored for a series
of articles on the Soviet Union, Mark Von Hagen concluded that the reporter
showed "a serious lack of balance in his writing."
"That lack of balance and uncritical acceptance of the Soviet
self-justification for its cruel and wasteful regime was a disservice to the
American readers of the NYT," Von Hagen wrote, "and the liberal values
they subscribe to and to the historical experience of the peoples of Russian
and Soviet empires in their struggle for a better life."
Walter Duranty, 1945, University of Arizona
In a phone interview Wednesday, Von Hagen said the New York Times
reviewed his letter and sent it to the Pulitzer Board in August with a
recommendation from its publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr. The details of Von
Hagen's findings were first reported in Wednesday's New York Sun.
Von Hagen said he did not know the specifics of Sulzberger's
Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, told the Washington
Post Wednesday night that the paper has no objection if the Pulitzer Prize
board wants to revoke the award. Keller said the paper told the board that
the Times considers Duranty's work "pretty dreadful It was a parroting of
In reviewing Duranty's articles, Von Hagen wrote that the reporter relied
overwhelmingly on official Soviet sources and employed "the enthusiastically
propagandistic language of his sources." He noted that throughout 1931,
Duranty wrote that Josef Stalin "was a progressive historical figure on the
order of Oliver Cromwell or Napoleon who was fighting a war against his
own Slavic people's Asiatic backwardness."
He said that Duranty, who died in 1957, downplayed the significance of the
widespread and violent opposition to collectivization - "a virtual civil war
in the countryside which would have been hard for Duranty to remain
Between 6 million and 11 million people died in a man-made famine during
Stalin's brutal campaign to collectivize agriculture in the Ukraine.
Von Hagen said the Times sent him Duranty's 1931 Pulitzer-entered articles
and asked him to evaluate whether they were reasonable accounts of Soviet
life at that time.
In the New York Times' official listing of its Pulitzer Prizes, Duranty's
award carries this notation: "Other writers in the Times and elsewhere have
discredited this coverage."
The board reviewed Duranty's prize in 1990 and left it in place. No Pulitzer
has been revoked since they were first given in 1917; the Washington Post
returned Janet Cooke's award in 1981 after learning she had fabricated the
story of a young heroin addict.